How significant should physical attraction be in the pursuit of marriage? Or, what role, if any, should physical appearance play in Christian dating?
Guys have come to me over the years asking about this. Usually he respects or admires a godly young woman (or, maybe more often, other people in his life think he should admire her more), and yet he’s not physically attracted to her. She’s not his “type,” he says. “Should I still pursue her?”
What would you say to him?
I would say, “No.” Or at least, “Not yet.” Given the common assumptions and practices in our society today, including the church, I do not believe a man (or woman) should begin a dating relationship with someone to whom they are not physically attracted. If he admires other things about her, I’m all for him befriending her and getting to know her in safe, unambiguous, non-flirtatious ways (probably in groups). But I believe physical attraction, at least in the vast majority of cases, is one critical piece in discerning whether to date or marry someone.
That being said, I also believe that physical attraction is far deeper and more dynamic, even spiritual, than we tend to think. It’s not static or objective. Real, meaningful, durable attraction is far more than physical. A man or woman’s physical appearance only plays one role in what makes them attractive or appealing. Its role is massive initially, say the very first time you see someone, when all you know about them is what you see, before you even know their name or hear their voice. But its role will necessarily evolve the more you learn about someone. After you’ve learned more about them—by asking their friends, or by hearing them talk, or by watching the way they live—you’ll never see them again as just the person you saw at first.
The more we learn about them, the more their appearance is filled, for better or for worse, with new and deeper meaning—with their personality, their convictions, their sense of humor, their faith. The once stunning girl may lose most of her charm, and the easily overlooked girl may become undeniably beautiful. They each look exactly the same as before, and yet they don’t. You see them, even their physical appearance, differently now.
Physical (and Flexible) Attraction
Don’t believe me? Ask 60-year-old love birds if they’re still “physically attracted” to each other. Some of them are more attracted to each other than ever, and it’s not because they’re gaining weight, losing their hair or having more trouble getting around. It’s because their appearance, in the eyes of their beloved, is increasingly filled with a deepening appreciation for the beauty in the other. They see something different in each other’s eyes. The hands are worn, but familiar and safe. The wrinkles are the years of faithfulness and bliss spent together. Their love not only looks beyond the surface, but sees the surface with new eyes.
On the other side, that celebrity you think is so hot right now can lose all of his or her appeal overnight, literally in one headline. It’s suddenly harder to even look at pictures of them anymore. They each look exactly the same, but they don’t. You see the same pictures differently now—same hair, same eyes, same figure—all suddenly unappealing, unattractive.
Physical attraction is real, but flexible. God has wired us to appreciate beauty in his design—to find men (for women) or women (for men) physically appealing—and that is a real and important element in our pursuit of marriage, and eventually in our flourishing within the covenant. God gave us physical senses and desires for our good. But that’s only one piece of what makes people attractive, and it is not the main piece—nowhere close. Mutual faith in Jesus Christ should be the most arrestingly attractive thing about any potential spouse.